Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Claude Mark Hurlbert, D. A.

Second Advisor

Gian S. Pagnucci, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Nancy Hayward, Ph.D.


Within the field of composition, older adults are an understudied population. This qualitative project examined a group of older adults from subsidized senior highrise apartments on the North Side of Pittsburgh. Rather than impose a design and a purpose upon the participants, as is usually done in senior writing group studies, I examined a Participant Design writing group, which had each participant contribute to how the group as conducted and decide the kinds of comments s/he received. I, as the researcher,acilitated and studied the group for one year, beginning with its inception in January 2005. I learned each participant’s writing history and then examined how, for each of the three participants, the writing group did or did not facilitate additional writing development. The data consisted of four in-depth interviews, journals, field notes, and member-commentary upon chapter drafts. I conducted a narrative analysis of my data and created a narrative case study for each participant’s history, writing group experiences, and analysis of experiences. The chief result of the study was that the members reported that they received what they wanted, largely because of the Participant Design. Verne, an 81-year old in remission from cancer who wanted to write polished fiction, received all the critical commentary she desired. As a result, she self-published nd said this group gave her "a new lease on life." Hilary, who shared his life-writing journals, received the positive reinforcement he desired and so felt that the group was therapeutic. Ann, with a history of writing disabilities, had her writing read aloud and was given the intensive feedback she requested. In turn, she wrote multiple drafts and created the basis for a book manuscript. Another noteworthy result was that each member’s motivation stemmed from a desire to give to future generations, or as Erik Erikson would state, from generativity. Further study is needed to see if Participant Design would be equally effective in other older adult writing group environments and to determine how extensively generativity plays a role in older adults’ writing.